Yes, everyone is talking about a possible second-round matchup between border rivals Kentucky and Indiana on Saturday in the Big Dance. These schools haven’t met since the 2012 NCAA East Regional showdown in Atlanta where the eventual champion Wildcats won 102-90.
That would be a fun game to watch with John Calipari’s Kentucky seeded at No. 4 and Tom Crean’s Indiana at No. 5. They are coaching buddies, too.
But we obviously need to be careful, though. Kentucky first has to overcome No. 13 seed Stony Brook and Indiana has to stop No. 12 seed Tennessee-Chattanooga on Thursday night.
Instead, we could be seeing a Stony Brook-Indiana contest on Saturday in the second round. Or even a “major upset special” between Stony Brook-Chattanooga. Nah, I don’t think these possible matchups will take place, but it doesn’t mean I’m right. And I haven’t fared very well in my NCAA tourney brackets over the years.
However, a Kentucky-Chattanooga contest is a decent possibility if both advance. The mid-major Mocs are 29-5 with their resume showing a couple of November victories over major schools Georgia (92-90 in overtime) and Illinois (81-77).
And Chattanooga, led by first-year head coach and ex-Florida assistant Matt McCall, won both the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Mocs are entering the tournament on a roll, winning the last five games, and have lost just twice in their last 18 games.
Chattanooga also has a player from the state of Kentucky, too. You may know him. His name is Peyton Woods, a 6-3 freshman guard from Wayne County High School. A first-team all-state selection and a 3-point shooting specialist, Woods last season posted a scoring average of 22.1 points, ranking among the top 20 in the state.
Interestingly, Peyton’s dad, Rodney Woods, is a former Tennessee Vols standout and the elder Woods also coached Peyton in high school. His father is a native of Bell County where he starred at old Lone Jack High School.
This season for Chattanooga, the younger Woods has seen some playing time in a reserve role. He has played 18 games, averaging 6.5 minutes and 2.8 points.
His dad said Peyton would enjoy playing against the Wildcats, assuming both Chattanooga and Kentucky get past the opening round.
“(It’s a) great opportunity for Peyton and Chattanooga to play in the tournament,” said the father on Monday. “If they are fortunate enough to get by Indiana, I’m sure he would be excited to play against Kentucky. (It) will be a tremendous challenge for them to win a game in the tourney.”
Not surprisingly, Peyton grew up a huge Tennessee fan. The father half-jokingly said he didn’t have a choice.
“We still have season tickets for football , but he’s all Chattanooga now,” said Rodney, who was a starting guard at Tennessee during the early 1970s, playing with All-Americans Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King. “(He) gave most of his Tennessee apparel away and his closet is blue and gold (Chattanooga’s school colors).”
On Thursday night’s Chattanooga-Indiana game, which tips off at 7:10 p.m. ET in Des Moines, Iowa, Rodney said it will be a tough challenge for the Mocs.
“This is a team that lost the best player (in Casey Jones, a two-time All-Southern Conference selection, to a season-ending ankle injury in December). He was leading them in points, rebounds, steals and assists. They lost him after eight games so to go on and do what they’ve done is remarkable,” said Woods. “They are a very good mid-major team. Probably their best win came at Dayton. “
That 61-59 road victory over Dayton in mid-December broke a 26-game home winning streak for the Flyers.
The elder Woods also added that the Mocs “have had tough time keeping quick guards from getting to rim so Yogi Ferrell (Indiana’s All-American guard) presents a tremendous challenge, but wouldn’t be shocked if they pull it off.”
Woods, who once had 16 assists against Georgia in 1975, praised UK’s talented backcourt. He is a big supporter of 5-9 All-American Tyler Ulis and says the Wildcats will need better play in the post if they are going to make serious noise in the Big Dance.
“(It’s) hard to win night after night depending on guards to have big shooting nights,” said Woods. “They have two of the best in country in Ulis and (Jamal) Murray. I’m partial to Ulis because I played at 5-10 and all you ever hear is ‘you’re too small’ but I think that guy has proven he’s great. Murray is best shooting guard I’ve seen at Kentucky since Louie Dampier.”
It’s an exciting week for Woods and his clan. They will be traveling this week to watch his son and the Mocs in the NCAA Tournament.
After attending Tuesday night’s Mr. and Miss Kentucky Basketball Awards ceremony in Lexington (where his point guard Trey Blevins of Wayne County High was a candidate for Mr. Basketball honors), Woods will drive to Iowa on Wednesday. He said he hoped to be there all weekend. If Chattanooga lose early, the Wayne County coach will head back to Lexington to watch more hoops — the boys’ state high school tournament at Rupp Arena.
As Dick Vitale — who has projected UK would reach the 2016 Final Four — would say, “It’s March Madness, Baby!”
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at [email protected]